- Series: Popular Science
- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; Revised edition (August 5, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0192880519
- ISBN-13: 978-0192880512
- Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 0.8 x 5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 95 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #313,972 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene (Popular Science) Revised Edition
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The Extended Phenotype is a sequel to The Selfish Gene ... he writes so clearly it could be understood by anyone prepared to make the effort John Maynard Smith, LRB This entertaining and thought-provoking book is an excellent illustration of why the study of evolution is in such an exciting ferment these days. Science
About the Author
Richard Dawkins is the first holder of Oxford's newly endowed Charles Simonyi Professorship of Public Understanding of Science. Born in Nairobi of British parents, Richard Dawkins was educated at Oxford and did his doctorate under the Nobel-prizewinning ethologist Niko Tinbergen. From 196769 he was an Assistant Professor at the University of California at Berkeley, then he returned to Oxford as University Lecturer (later Reader) and a Fellow of New College, before taking up his present position in 1995.
Richard Dawkins's bestselling books have played a significant role in the renaissance of science book publishing for a general audience. The Selfish Gene (1976; second edition 1989) was followed by The Extended Phenotype (1982), The Blind Watchmaker (1986), River Out of Eden (1995), Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), and Unweaving the Rainbow (1998). He has won many literary and scientific awards.
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Too often science is regarded as simple and undescriptive by those unfamiliar with the complexity of every moment of life in every individual. We have retained far too much dependence upon simplistic explanations. halfway between description of DNA and present molecular understanding Dawkins wrote this, discussing some weaknesses in limited ideas professed by the greatest evolutionary thinkers of the latter 20th century, and suggesting that the environment and the mechanisms of heritability work more harmoniously in sychronization than was understood.
Today the fast-developing science of epigenesis must be understood by everyone, and even scientists might fail to expand their conceptualizing enough. For those who are following Epigenetics, the cognitive sciences, and the complexity of genetic expression anywhere from molecular to biospheric levels, this work will continually open you to new syntheses of understanding.
RNA, DNA, are very old molecules, and I believe that ideas of spandrel and even the attempt to isolate any single unit of reproduction, are passe'. Evolution happens at all and any speeds, and Dawkins' finest work is his understanding of multiple levels and dimensions of the process.
In order to successfully analyze how the highly variable proteome works, we have to embrace complexity and contingency. Reading, and from time to time, rereading either the whole or part, will give geneticists and general biologists, not to mention those hoping to move behavioral and cognitive sciences ahead, some periodic turbo-boosts.
Put it in your library, and even after having done the extensive work o freading it, reopen it on any passing day, and you will be enriched.
After drilling into the 'selfish gene' in greater detail that the eponymous work, the next three chapters do a fantastic job of advocating the view that the effects of genes (their phenotype) are not limited to body parts (blue eyes, brown hair, etc.) but extend out to aspects of animal behavior, animal artifacts and even, in the case of a beaver making a dam that makes a lake, the surrounding environment. We can talk about genes 'for' a beaver lake. He uses well-chosen examples to illustrate how thinking outside the individual organism is conceptually no different than tracing the (actually very complex) chain of events that lead from a single gene to something like blue vs. brown eyes.
The argument of the book was very skillfully crafted. Every one of the ten chapters rehashing and developing the Selfish Gene ended up providing intellectual scaffolding for making the jump outside the body in the later chapters, even if it wasn't obvious that the information would be necessary while reading it. There was almost a sense of a well-constructed trap snapping shut in the final chapters. Dawkins also has a delightful habit of starting a 'thought experiment' that seems utterly bizarre just to get a point across, and right when you think he's pushed the experiment too far, he trots out a real example from nature that is even more wonderful and strange than his thought experiment was. Brilliant work!
Having in a sense finished what he started in the Selfish Gene, developing a gene's-eye view of the world, Dawkins ends The Extended Phenotype with a chapter that contemplates the place and importance of the individual organism.
Focus of the book, at least as i'm getting it, is that the phenotypic effects of genes (selected by evolution), when regarded as a "phenotype", need not necessarily be restricted to organisms but can be interpreted as the sum of all effects the genome has on the world surrounding it, including, for example, the nests of birds (as part of the phenotypes of their genomes).
This is quite an eye-opener in my opinion, if you believe in evolution. It breaks the restricting barrier of a single organism when you ruminate about why a particular adaptation you're interested in might have evolved. Adaptations not easily explainable in the context of a single organism suddenly make perfect sense when viewed in the context of all the effects the genome has, freed of the more or less arbitrary cage of a single-organism-view. The book delivers quite a lot of examples, and the more you think about them the more convincing the argumentation of Dawkins gets.